The first submarine
THAT DOES IT - Korina Sanchez (The Freeman) - June 22, 2018 - 12:00am

According to DND spokesman Director Arsenio Andolong, plans to buy submarines for the Philippine Navy have been fast-tracked to Horizon 2, a program of AFP modernization covering the period of 2108-2022, well within the term of President Duterte. Philippine Navy Chief Vice Admiral Robert Empedrad said that having submarines in our fleet would “serve as a deterrence to foreign navies, as well as gaining their respect.” Submarines are indeed a game-changer in one’s navy. Nothing epitomizes stealth than a submarine. The only question is, where are we going to buy submarines? Adding to that, wouldn’t China frown on us having submarine capability, with Beijing and Duterte now the best of buddies? What will these submarines patrol, if we can indeed purchase more than one, if not our seas and exclusive economic zones? Will our submarines even be allowed by China to patrol those waters, not to mention the anti-submarine capabilities of the Chinese Navy? Or are we buying the submarines from China?

There is no argument that the Philippine Navy would benefit greatly from having submarines in its fleet. Andolong said that the plan was to buy four. But is this a priority of the AFP? A Soryu-class diesel-electric submarine from Japan costs around $536.7 million (according to Wikipedia), if that is what the AFP is planning to acquire. I’m sure there are other countries willing to sell submarines, some more expensive, some cheaper. As a comparison, the FA-50 fighters currently used by the Philippine Air Force cost around $30 million (also according to Wikipedia). Is a submarine more important, or cost-effective than 17 fighters? Or would it be better to purchase more surface vessels like corvettes and frigates, aside from the two frigates we have already purchased from South Korea? Most of what the Navy currently has are hand-me-downs from other navies. I was also educated on littoral vessels, since we are a country of many islands. If other countries already have submarines, shouldn’t we have anti-submarine capability, which I was told the littoral vessels could carry out?

I’m not a soldier, so I’m just asking along the lines of cost. I did do a little research just to get an idea of how much military equipment cost. They are not cheap. There is no argument that the AFP needs modernization, as initiated by the previous administration, compared to the anemic programs of past administrations. But buying a submarine is not as simple as it looks. The maintenance and support systems will cost a lot, annually. Training capable submariners will also take time. If the FA-50s that we currently have cannot even be fully equipped and armed to their full capability, even gaining criticism from Duterte, how much more a submarine? Or will the government put all funding towards the purchase of the Philippine Navy’s first submarine, if only to join the “exclusive club of countries (with submarines),” according to Andolong?

ARSENIO ANDOLONG
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